Animals doing flips in the water, painting pictures with their trunks and giving rides, this may be entertaining for humans, but it is no life for animals. New research from the global charity World Animal Protection and the Change for Animals Foundation shows that wild animals are abused and forced to do unnatural activities at what are supposed to be some of the world's 'top' zoos, including in Canada.
The organization surveyed activities at zoos and aquariums that are affiliated with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) - the global umbrella organization for zoos; some of these zoos are also accredited by national zoo associations. Of the 1,200 zoos surveyed, 75% of them offer at least one activity where visitors can have direct contact with live, captive wild animals. This poses higher animal welfare and public safety risks.
The research included field visits to a dozen zoos that showcase animals being cruelly used in demeaning experiences, focusing on big cats, dolphins, elephants and primates. Cruel training techniques would be required on these animals in order for them to perform for humans.
Among the twelve zoos highlighted were African Lion Safari (ALS) and Jungle Cat World in Ontario. At ALS elephants were forced to do various tricks such as bowing, painting and lifting up a trainer. People could also touch elephants and ride them on a circular track.
At Jungle Cat World, visitors were able to get close to a variety of wild animals including cougars, tigers, lions and wolves for selfies.
WAZA's guidelines state that members should not involve animals in shows, displays or interactive experiences where animals perform demeaning and unnatural behaviours. Yet our research exposes how WAZA is not enforcing their own rules. Tourists visiting a WAZA-linked venue should be able to trust they are not inadvertently supporting cruel animal attractions.
Melissa Matlow, Campaign Director at World Animal Protection says,
"Elephant rides and wildlife selfies are outdated and dangerous, as the recent attack on a trainer at African Lion Safari made clear. The public expects that zoos that are members of WAZA meet higher professional standards, but our research shows the association is turning a blind eye to controversial and potentially dangerous activities. This highlights why the government needs to step in as the zoo industry should not be policing itself."
Matlow adds that it's understandable that people who love animals want to go to zoos to see them up close, but they may not be aware of the cruelty that goes on behind the scenes.
"If you can see animals involved in activities they wouldn't normally do in the wild, then it shouldn't be shown in a zoo. It's not natural, it's not educational, it's cruel," says Matlow.
And while people still visit zoos, Canadian opinion on the use of wild animals for entertainment is changing. Sixty one percent of Canadians find elephant riding unacceptable and 89% believe wild animals belong in the wild. Tourism companies are responding by removing elephant rides from their offerings and Instagram now discourages wildlife selfies.
The best place to see wild animals, is in their natural habitat. However, if people want to visit a zoo, World Animal Protection recommends to not go to venues which allow visitors:
to ride, touch and bathe a wild animal
to take photographs with wild animals being used as photo-props
to see wild animals perform in circus-like shows
to see animals in clothes or exhibits that are unnatural or human-like
to interact with the animals repeatedly all day without rest for the animal.
Read the full report here.